Even before Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government took charge at the Centre, there were apprehensions that this year might witness a weak monsoon. This fear seems to be turning out true to a considerable extent. It’s said that the monsoon has got affected by El-Nino. It’s quite difficult to say that to what extent El-Nino will have its impact on the monsoon in India. However, till now, it’s clear that the rainfall has been below average in several parts of the country in the month of June. The farmers usually rely on rainfall for irrigation and on account of a weak monsoon, the task of achieving food production targets is looking little bit daunting. The way prices of food stuffs started soaring up ever since Modi-led government came to power is indeed a matter of concern for the people. The lines of worry can be seen distinctly on the forehead of Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues as the outcome of a weak monsoon is also coming to the fore. Scanty rainfall is having a direct effect on the production of fruits and vegetables. It’s also feared that the inadequate rains could impact food production. In order to deal with such situation in an effective manner, the government has already started pulling up its socks. In the past few days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself took a stock of the steps being undertaken to tackle the problems arising out of situations like drought and price-rise and also held a meeting. He asked the concerned ministries to arrange seeds and fertilizers and also called for strict action against black-marketers and hoarders in states. He also suggested setting up of special courts in order to deal with such elements. Apart from it, the Central government has also made it clear that they have prepared a comprehensive plan to deal properly with the situation arising in drought-hit areas. At the same time, he also said that every possible step is being taken in order to implement them.

Less rainfall can trigger a drought-like situation in any country. But a mere fear of drought is leading to price rise is indeed strange. Even if there were no drought-like situation, the price of food stuffs witnessed an unprecedented rise and this has in fact been the trend for the past few years. In a country as vast as India, which is primarily an agrarian economy, policies should have been framed in such a way that it could have favoured the farmers so that in difficult times, the price of food products remain under control and the farmers receive maximum prices of their produce. It should be accepted that even after several years of independence, no such policy has been framed, which not only favours farmers but also takes care of the consumers. Presently, the immediate steps which are being taken by the Central government, to control the price of food stuffs, are more than enough. Certain fundamental and far-fetched decisions in order to deal with the problem of effects of drought are yet to materialize. There are several countries in the world which produces foodstuffs, fruits and vegetables in sufficient quantity in spite of receiving scanty rainfall. These countries are not that dependent on rainfall for irrigation. The irony of this country is that the farmers are mainly dependent on rainfall. In order to increase the irrigational capacity, there are several scientific methods available but those are yet to reach out to the farmers.

Though the government has announced that fruits and vegetables will be brought out of Mandi Committee’s ambit, a decision of such a nature related to food grains is yet to be taken. This fact should not be overlooked that the farmers are still compelled to sell their produce via markets. They reach market at their own expenses but they never know that at what and which rate their products will be sold. Another disappointing aspect associated with this issue is that in our country, there is a lack of proper facilities like transportation and storage and due to this, more than 40 percent foodstuffs, especially vegetables and fruits, get wasted. In the same way, there is no proper arrangement in several parts of the country which lets the farmers know that how long they would be able to store their produce. In order to maintain a proper balance between the demand and supply of food products, there should be a proper system and unfortunately, it’s missing. In such a scenario, it’s necessary that the government, apart from stressing on modernization of farming, also focuses on transportation and storage of foodstuffs. Assistance from private firms can also be sought in this regard. Though these issues were taken up for discussion previously as well, results are yet to emerge. It remains to be seen how Modi government arrives at a solution of these widely discussed issues.

It’s the need of the hour that in order to make the agricultural sector competent enough, the food processing industries obtain permission to procure crops directly from the farmers. This can only ensure better price to the farmer. It’s also necessary to set up cold chains across the nation so that the wastage of fruits and vegetables can be prevented. If these steps are taken and if food processing units get active in rural and semi-urban areas, it will not only help the farmers and consumers but also generate employment opportunities. Since the food processing is not being given enough patronage, along with Centre, the state governments also need to detect obstacles. And to plug these loopholes, immediate changes should be brought in the rules and regulations and laws associated with it. Besides, such laws should also be framed which can make the difference between storage of food processing units and hoarders clearly understood.

India is still an agrarian economy and around 70 percent of the total populations are dependent on agriculture. What’s indeed a problem is that the farmers always run into losses and on the other hand, the rural areas are still devoid of some of the most basic and fundamental infrastructures. The agriculture needs to be connected with science and advanced technology. Though it’s often said that farming holds enough potential, there is also an underlying reality – the process of agriculture-based industrialization was never given proper attention decades back and the area continues to loiter in fringes. This is happening at a time when it has become quite clear that in order to pull the nation out of economic crisis, it’s necessary to take such steps. If this happens, people from rural areas will stop migrating and those who are dependent on agriculture will be able to lead a prosperous life. It would be better if Modi government takes steps in order to tackle the problem of drought in a comprehensive manner and at the time, works on control inflation.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on June 29, 2014 translated by the English editorial. The author is the Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)